The Last Five Years – Better

A cool thing that always struck me when I heard authors talk about it was “And those forty pages were what would eventually become the novel Looking for Alaska,” or whatever. (Yay John Green!)

Anyway, it sort of was surprising to me at first that novels sometimes need extensive revision and become very different from the original concept before they are something that the artist actually ends up sharing with the world. Perhaps that was why I never got anywhere with all the novels I started to write – there either was not enough of an idea, or I was not willing enough to adapt it. That aside, I was reading over what I wrote last night at varying intervals from one to three in the morning, and realized that it got better near the end. So I decided to rewrite it a bit more like it is near the end.

Hey there.

You’re going to high school soon, you know. Have you thought about that yet? I suppose not, not too terribly much. That’s okay. It’ll occur to you.

But first you’ll go to Switzerland with your parents and sisters, and you’ll fight with your mother on a mountaintop. Pretty exhilarating stuff. And no, you will never forget the coolness. It is a whole other world.

And then you’ll go home and start high school. And on the first day of class you will say, “Danke schön” in class a lot and get weird looks. Including in German class, when you will accidentally say, “Thank you.”

Before too much time you’ll find yourself in your first legitimate relationship. And it will be sloppy and stupid and a little bit beautiful. You will seriously regret it later, and that’s okay, but don’t forget that some of it was, however garishly, beautiful.

Eventually it will end. You will spend a good ten, fifteen minutes standing in the sun, with a splotch of gray paint on your left shoulder, with your arms around each other, crying some and talking more. And then finally you will walk away, though five years later, trying to remember the last glimpse you had of his back as you left will prove nearly impossible, and you will wonder how something so important to you could have been something you have no memory of.

And then you will spend a much longer amount of time trying to end the end. You will type words you never even thought before, you will cry a lot, and you will keep living. And eventually you will take that damned ring off and shut him out for a while, and that will be healing. And on and off over about another year or two you’ll keep coming back to each other. Maybe just like balloons, bouncing off a wall, ’cause you just need that extra boost once in a while. And you will hardly know how you feel about him, years later; you may still wonder if you and he could try again. Does it matter? Probably not. Just so you know it’s coming.

In the meantime you will be a staff writer and the Opinion Editor, albeit in name only, of the school newspaper. You’ll write award-winning stories (much less glamorous than it sounds) and impress the advisers, and at the end of your sophomore year, Devo will beckon you out of the room and you two will walk out of the annex and as he pushes open the doors and tells you he won’t beat around the bush the May morning sun will flash in your eyes. “You’re the editor.”

And for the next two years Being an Editor will shape your life, your schedule and your personality. Devo will tell you at the beginning that one of the things he needs to see from you as an editor is more assertion, tell you that you need to stand up to people and say what needs to be said. By the end he may be wondering just what sort of Editor Frankenstein he created. That’s okay. There’s no knowing what you would be like if it hadn’t grown you up and kept you busy, and you’re a better person for having done it.

By the way, there will come a day in your sophomore year when you will give up, once and for all, the idea of being a teacher (never mind why, you’ll know it when it comes). And you may just have to consider what your parents think would be a good career for you. Don’t rule it out because they’re your parents. Actually, that’s a good policy for a lot of things regarding them.

As far as your friends go, you will stick to one for a while, for quite a long while actually, but it will start to unravel and then rip apart, and somehow despite your naivete you will understand, though not thoroughly, that you two did not like each other, you liked what you saw of yourselves in the other. And it is after this toxic friendship finally falls apart in your junior year that you start to see the absolute best friends who have been sitting in front of you and behind you in trig the entire time. Hannah and Derek are two of the best things to ever happen to you. Never forget that. Love them. Keep them around. Learn from them, even when you think you know more than they do. (P.S. You usually don’t.)

And aside from Derek and Hannah and your parents and sisters you will realize that very few additional people need matter in a big way.

The jazz band, however, are still great. You will join jazz band (you can’t ignore your mother forever) and you will love it and it will still be changing your life long after you’ve left it.

Also, I forgot to mention that right before your sophomore year you will go to Sjölunden. And then you will go back. And then, despite some pressing insecurities you will go back a third time. And eventually you will find yourself in the middle of applying to work there. It is something you love, and you should never ignore it.

Your senior year of high school you will be crazy about a couple of boys who won’t necessarily deserve it. That’s okay – it’s just a thing you have to get out of your system. Have fun while it lasts. Don’t take it too seriously. Also, when you get dumped, you’re going to hurt. Quite a lot. Shakespeare may have been the one to say, “Feel the pain until it hurts no more.”

You’re going to graduate, and everything you’ve done in the last four years from scraping your hand on a brick wall (the scar is currently reflecting the lamplight a little bit) to drinking raspberry tea and blaring Bob James as you drive is going to seem like it works out, like it fits, like the picture which is the last four years is exceptionally ordinary, normal and right. As though it just is what it is and has always been, even when you were afraid it wouldn’t work out. Whatever was that all about?

Then you’re going to go to college, and watch too much Doctor Who and hang out with some people you don’t necessarily like and gradually figure out which ones you do like. A couple of boys will confess their violent love for you, perhaps not in so many words, but you’ll kiss the one who tells you without flinching that “I do not love you.” You’ll learn to write papers and put on eyeliner (self-taught, I might add!) and to improvise on the piano and have existential crises, but you’ll forget how to talk to people and how to feel like you know anything worth saying. You’ll watch the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special with good people and appreciate your family infinitely more. 

Four days before the Christmas of your freshman year in college your grandfather will die in a city a thousand miles away and your mother will call you just before you start the dishes to let you know. And at his service you will tell a story that somehow, even in the storytelling family you have, got lost in the shuffle and is somehow known only to your parents and sisters, and the entire congregation will laugh and you will too, more out of high-running emotion than humor, and your voice will squeak into the microphone.

And you will spend a lot of time talking with various people about religion, death, music, literature, wibbly wobbly timey wimey, and lots of other beautiful and terrifying things. So here’s what you do. Read – read a lot, read everything. Run and swim. Talk to people – the cuter they are the better. Play Ludovico Einaudi and Beethoven and Murray Gold and Massenet, and tackle Wagner and Chopin and Bach. Read about linguistics and economics and other things that interest you. Study your languages. Heck, tackle a new one just ’cause you can. Go learn things. Understand things. Live things. You’ll figure it out, I think.

Till then.


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